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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   153
have been doing very useful work for our country. He
had real talent—vigorous, daring, brilliant. He might
have become the pride of the Soviet medical profession—
if only I had telephoned then!"
"Are you sorry you did not telephone?"
"What do you mean? Ah, yes..., I don't know. I
don't know."
"Suppose this were to happen now, would you act
Silence ensued. The regular breathing of the patients
was heard. The bed creaked rhythmically—evidently the
professor, in deep reflection, was rocking his body to
and fro—and the valves clicked in the central heating
"Well?" asked the Commissar in a tone that rang deep
with sympathy and understanding.
"I don't know-----I haven't a ready answer to your
question. I don't know. But I think that if everything
were to repeat itself, I would do what I did all over again.
I am no better and no worse than other fathers.... What
a frightful thing war is,..."
"And believe me, it is no easier for other fathers to
bear the dreadful news than it is for you. No easier."
Vasily Vasilyevich sat silent for a long time. What was
he thinking, what thoughts were passing behind that
high, wrinkled forehead during those slowly passing
"Yes, you are right," he said at last. "It was no easier
for him, and yet he sent his second son.... Thank you,
dear chap, thank you. Oh, well, there's nothing to be
done about it."
He got up from the bed, gently replaced the Commis-
sar's hand under the blanket, tucked the blanket round
him and silently walked out of the room.
Late that night the Commissar had a severe relapse.
Unconscious, he tossed about in his bed, grinding his
teeth, moaning loudly. Then he would fall silent and
stretch out full length, and everybody thought the end
had come. His condition was so bad that Vasily Vasilye-
vich—who, after his son was killed, had moved from his
big, empty apartment to his small office in the hospital
where he slept on an oilcloth-covered couch—ordered a